Oignies is a coal-mining community 15 km north-west of Douai and 20 km south of Lille. Coal was first discovered in the area in 1842, and the last was extracted in 1990. The centre named after Denis Papin (1647-1712), the French-born pioneer of steam technology, who did much of his research in France and Germany, is located in the former Oignies No 2 colliery, a range of brick buildings from which protrudes the colliery’s headstock. The outstanding exhibit in the mining section is the 3800 hp steam winding engine built in Mulhouse in 1932 which wound coal and men up the 475 m shaft. The colliery ceased work in 1977. The railway section contains models, a travelling post office carriage and a collection of locomotives, including some working diesels, and the pacific 231.c.78, an example of one of the outstanding classes of French express locomotives.
On the first Sunday in February each year the centre organises the Terrils Rando, a guided walk through the mining landscape around Oignies in which a thousand people participated in 2007. The spectacular steel headstocks of Oignies Mines 9 and 9A are protected monuments but are now situated within an intermodal freight centre.